Over the Rhine

Holy Biofuel & Justice Juice: A Musical Review of Wild Goose

David Crowder. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
David Crowder tells stories and sings during a two-person acoustic set at Wild Goose. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

On the opening night of the second Wild Goose Festival late last month in Shakori Hills, N.C., the dancing hadn't started yet.

The fabulous parades and the frenzied-yet-friendly almost-moshing were yet to commence on the grassy playscape in front of the main stage. Before things got wild for us goslings, we had to unpack our musical expectations and pitch a tent large enough to welcome the broadest of folds.

Kicking things off was Josh Garrels, who brought his smoothly smoky-folky sound with its pleasant rasp that recalls adult-alternative icons like Ray LaMontagne and Amos Lee. Following Garrels, former frontman of the band Caedmon’s Call and current experimental multi-genre provocateur Derek Webb pushed at the already broad boundaries of the Wild Goose aesthetic.

With several funny, yet biting, remarks during his plenary setlist, Webb outright rejected the “Christian music” label and bathed our brains with songs such as “A New Law,” the 2005 sarcastic anthem where bold freedom and blind faith wrestle it out for the soul of contemporary Christendom. Webb threw down a gauntlet with lyrics such as, “don't teach me about loving my enemies/don't teach me how to listen to the Spirit/just give me a new law.”

But on Friday, with fiery folk rock a la R.E.M. or Wilco, Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets fired back a response. “The Lion, The Ram & The Fish” served up an antidote as we negotiated our weekend-long truce in the culture wars with this refrain: “Love your God with your heart, love your neighbor as your own, and the rest is just a guess as good as mine.”

A Reverence for Song

When comedian Gracie Allen took up painting, she determined to paint only masterpieces. The gag was that she didn’t know a thing about painting. But even the most skilled and inspired struggle to follow a gem; their efforts are frequently panned as “like the last one, but less good.” Musicians who release albums to wide acclaim often avoid this by coming back with changes of pace and experimentation, which at least sound different enough to avoid a sense of spinning wheels.

Over the Rhine is unlikely ever to top Good Dog Bad Dog (1996), an exquisite home recording of moody folk-pop songs. Still, The Trumpet Child is the best of the several very different albums the Ohio duo has put out since. It’s also the most adventurous—and what’s surprising is that its riskiest material is also its strongest.

Much of the album is tied together by an homage to the American songbook, to pop music rooted not in rock but in jazz and show music. “Stan­dards” records have become a rite of passage for Serious Pop Singers, and there’s no shortage of music that aims for a pre-war aesthetic. But rarely does someone channel the period’s compositional character—with its expansive harmonies and baroque flourishes—into fresh-sounding music.

The Trumpet Child pulls this off. In 11 original songs, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler conjure (without mimicking) Cole Porter’s wit, Fats Waller’s swagger, and Kurt Weill’s drama. Producer Brad Jones dresses the songs up with horn lines, the retro wobble of unison strings, and a stylish but aggressive rhythm section; Detweiler’s always-sensitive piano is newly outspoken, even showy. Jones’ approach—three parts high-end lush and one part do-it-yourself weird—coaxes something new and potent out of the band.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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